Wireless Impacts Probed – September 7, 2010

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Daniel Mintz

Eye Correspondent

HUMBOLDT – County planning commissioners agree that high-speed Internet service should be available to everyone but dealing with cumulative impacts – including potential health impacts – is an unresolved challenge.

Humboldt is said to be the only county in the state with a telecommunications chapter in its General Plan Update and the Planning Commission reviewed a draft of it at their Aug. 26 meeting. The county wants to ensure uniform access to reliable telecommunications services, including broadband Internet service.

But commissioners had difficulty responding to requests for programs that would monitor electromagnetic radiation levels.

During a public comment session, Arcata resident Jessica Doremus urged commissioners to consider the health impacts of emissions from wireless transmission facilities. She asked that wireless communications services be excluded from a goal statement on universal service access.

Under federal law, wireless emissions can’t be regulated locally but Doremus said protection of health and safety is a local responsibility and wireless transmissions should be distinguished from delivery via cable. “Wireless emissions are not considered because of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) standard and the FCC standard is flawed,” she told commissioners. “Everybody’s afraid of litigation – but you have a responsibility to look at the big picture.”

Beverly Filip of Eureka has also lobbied for more attention to wireless transmissions. “I will have to leave the county if wireless broadband is put in everywhere,” she said, adding that Wi-Fi antennas emit much more radiation than cell towers. “We should be listening to engineers that understand physics and medical people that understand how this affects people.”

That led to conversations between commissioners and local communications specialists on the practicality of monitoring the cumulative impacts of wireless emissions. “I don’t know whether these health issues are real or not, but I think it behooves us to look at this seriously,” said Commissioner Dennis Mayo.

He said monitoring “seems to be a reasonable addition to how we develop this.”

Jan Kraepelin, a communications specialist with the City of Arcata, said it should be dealt with when the Update’s ordinances are drafted. He referred to San Francisco’s ordinance requiring disclosure of radiation outputs of cellular devices. Arcata was poised to adopt a similar ordinance, Kraepelin continued, but the City is waiting for the resolution of a legal challenge to San Francisco’s law.

Kraepelin suggested that the Commission tap the knowledge of Arcata’s staff in the Update’s ordinance phase. But Community Development Services Director Kirk Girard said Update policies drive the content of ordinances. He recommended that emissions be dealt with when the Commission reviews siting standards.

Connie Stewart, the director of the California Center for Rural Policy, is a leading member of a working group that helped write the telecommunications chapter. Stewart has proposed holding a workshop on what other communities are doing about emissions, but she said, “The question is whether this is really a land use question.”

Stewart said site-specific monitoring of wireless facilities is already being done. “This is more about monitoring, community-wide, how much radiation is being put out — and who knows what the source of that is,” she continued.

She highlighted the importance of providing Internet service in communities that can’t be served via cable. “I believe that health and safety is also about lifting people out of poverty,” Stewart said.

Commissioner Bruce Emad told Doremus and Filip that their concerns are valid but they should be lobbied to a higher level of government. “At this level, you’re basically preaching to the choir and this choir has no power,” he said.

Commissioners unanimously agreed on the wording of the goal statement, which specifies that “telecommunications services, including high-speed broadband,” will be available to every resident, business and institution in the county at a level of service and price comparable to urban communities.

Commissioners also agreed to support broadband infrastructure that offers redundancy and minimum speeds comparable to urban areas and to support integration of broadband service in new development.

The hearing was continued to Sept. 9.

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